Don't kill yourself

Depression is real in founders. Please be careful.

I was thinking about what I wanted to write in this newsletter and instead of offering happy crappy advice on pitch decks and telling you to crush it, I decided I’d go a different route.

Here’s my advice: Don’t kill yourself.

First, if you’re suicidal, WhatsApp me at +16468270591 or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at +1800-273-8255 or, if you’re not in the States, visit this site.

I was speaking to a founder recently who tried to express so much by saying very little. He was embarrassed, in fact, at what he was trying to do. He was trying to tell me he was hurting, he was scared, and he was frustrated.

“Can you find a local CEO group? Folks you can talk to?” I asked.

“No, all they want to talk about is whose raise was bigger,” he said.

Fuck. Do you see why I’m writing this?

Listen: you’re trying to build something. You’re dedicated to that idea. You’re doing it for a very personal reason. Maybe you want to share an idea. Maybe you don’t want to work in a cubicle. Maybe you want to pass something on to your kids. The thing that matters is that you are, as that old shitty poster says, the “man (or woman) in the arena.”

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Great. You’re in the arena. You’re building. You will, at one point in the near future, be miraculously happy and successful. How that is defined is unclear right now and no one, not even prognosticators like me can tell you. But listen: at some point, you’ll wake up and say “Yeah, this is great. This is what I wanted.” I’m certain on that point.

How do I know? Because I read books and I’ve talked older folks. I also read this recently. It’s from an interview with William Shatner.

It feels rude to ask a 90-year-old if he worries about death, so I ask instead what he wishes he had known at 20 that he knows at 90.

“Here’s an interesting answer!” he says perkily. “I’m glad I didn’t know because what you know at 90 is: take it easy, nothing matters in the end, what goes up must come down. If I’d known that at 20, I wouldn’t have done anything!”

Get it? We’re on that great wheel. Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. The only constancy is change, says Fate. Then she says:

Having entrusted yourself to Fortune's dominion, you must conform to your mistress's ways. What, are you trying to halt the motion of her whirling wheel? Dimmest of fools that you are, you must realize that if the wheel stops turning, it ceases to be the course of chance.

But here’s the problem: on the way to that point of understanding, you will be full of doubt, anger, and fear. I’ve failed many, many times and my last big failure had me wanting to walk in front of a bus. I just recently failed again — it was self-inflicted but still — and I’ll probably fail in the future. We’re wired to fail. We’re not perfect beings.

So when you feel that you’re not living up to your potential, remember that you are actually doing something. Most people get on the subway or bus, go into work, put in their eight hours, and go home. Most people are happy doing that. Why fault them? But you are doing something different. Something amazingly hard. Something the average person refuses to do.

You’re building.

But you’re not happy doing that. And you’re also probably not happy at all. Because in your quest to buck trends you’ve lost your understanding of the sheer inexplicability of your existence. Your startup will probably fail. You will keep trying forever and ever. For one period of your life, you’ll work for someone else and in another, you won’t. Revel in these changes. Revel in these chances. When the wheel stops there are no more chances. And please, for the love of whatever, don’t let that wheel stop.

Again: don’t kill yourself. Don’t let yourself be destroyed by anxiety or depression. The instant you stop wanting to wake up in the morning is the instant you need to get help or quit. The instant you feel a crushing sense of fear you should talk to someone. Please. Don’t gut through it. Don’t fight. Just get help. No one in the startup world will tell you this and when I admitted this in a post a while back, one commenter said I wasn’t cut out to be a founder because I wasn’t made of sterner stuff. Fuck that guy. Get help when you need it, give help when you see its need.

You are important, you are intelligent, and you are loving. You’re worth worrying about. If you’re going through a tough time please reach out. A startup isn’t a suicide pact, it’s an adventure. Put that on an inspirational plaque and smoke it.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash